A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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In the winter of 1704-5 John Churchill, duke of Marlborough engaged Sir John Vanbrugh to build a house in Woodstock Park, and together they chose a site overlooking the Glyme valley opposite the old royal palace. (fn. 48a) From the first, in accordance with the queen's wishes, the house was called Blenheim. The foundation stone was laid on 18 June 1705 on a site prepared by the royal gardener Henry Wise. Building continued at the Crown's expense until 1712, when, after the Marlboroughs had lost favour, the Treasury ceased to provide funds. On the queen's death in 1714 the Marlboroughs returned from voluntary exile, but little was done until debts to Blenheim workmen were partially settled in 1716. Building then continued at the Marlboroughs' expense, and the family took up residence in 1719. After the duke's death in 1722 Sarah, duchess of Marlborough, completed the chief features of Vanbrugh's house plan, together with outworks such as the Grand Bridge, the Triumphal Arch, and the Column of Victory. Her work was substantially complete by the early 1730s. (fn. 49a)
From the outset the building operation was on a vast scale, and by August 1705 Vanbrugh reckoned there were some 1,500 workmen on the site. (fn. 50a) The unexpected failure of the park quarries to provide suitable freestone increased the cost and complexity of the undertaking. At first local quarries such as Cornbury and Glympton were used, but soon more distant quarries were called upon, notably those at Burford and Taynton, whence 136 carters were hauling stone in the summer of 1706. In all over 20 quarries were used, the most distant being those at Portland, Plymouth, and Ross-on-Wye. (fn. 51a) Building materials and statuary were regularly carried by Thames barge from London. The building operation affected the economy of a wide area, providing abundant and well paid employment, but provoking sharp price rises: when Vanbrugh was granted large quantities of royal timber from Wychwood forest in 1709 it was hoped that local timber prices would fall to levels which country builders might afford. (fn. 52a) Individual fortunes were presumably made but distress and bankruptcy were precaused when the money supply failed. (fn. 53a) More enduring was the development of Blenheim as a focus of tourism, which began soon after the foundation stone was laid.
The queen's decision to pay for the house was never officially recorded, and warrants of June 1705 appointing the architect and joint comptrollers of works were issued by the Lord Treasurer at the duke's request, making no reference to the Crown's interest. (fn. 54a) It was understood that costs would be met from the Civil List, but those handling the payments (Samuel Travers, Surveyor General of Crown lands, and John Taylor, his deputy) were accountable not to the Treasury but to the duke. (fn. 55a) When the Marlboroughs' political power declined the unbridled expenditure on Blenheim was at once called into question. (fn. 56a)
According to Vanbrugh the duke at first had in mind a house costing £40,000, (fn. 57a) but in July 1705, when Sir Christopher Wren, Surveyor General of royal works, visited the site, he estimated the cost at c. £100,000. That estimate omitted many features of the eventual plan, notably the service courts, the ambitious northern approach, the heightening of the main block, and the laying out of the gardens and park. (fn. 58a) The model which Vanbrugh later claimed that the queen had approved and which he had 'exactly followed' evidently postdated Wren's estimate and several changes of plan, and may have been prepared as late as 1708. (fn. 59a) Vanbrugh's own estimates were unreliable: in July 1707 he was expecting to finish in 1709, but by 1708, after delays in acquiring suitable stone, he recognized that even two more seasons would leave the west side unfinished. (fn. 60a) In October 1710, when the problem of money supply became acute and the duchess ordered all work to cease until the Crown sanctioned further payments, Vanbrugh felt that he might 'almost' undertake to finish for another £30,000, but four years later was still estimating over £54,000. (fn. 61a) When pressed he admitted that the total cost of the building would be £ 287,000, 'a large sum for a house, but a poor reward for the services that occasioned building it.' (fn. 62a)
The Crown's expenditure before its commitment ceased on 1 June 1712 (excluding £ 13,000 spent on clearing Woodstock park of 'incumbrances') was £ 220,000, (fn. 63a) and it was later accepted that a further £ 45,000 was owing to Blenheim workmen. (fn. 64a) After work restarted in 1716 the Marlboroughs spent a further £ 32,000 up to 1720, (fn. 65a) and the duchess claimed to have spent another £ 25,000 after the duke's death, out of £ 50,000 left to her to finish Blenheim. (fn. 66a) Elsewhere she claimed that the house had or would cost the family £ 100,000 to complete. (fn. 67a) Expenditure in several years is unaccounted for, and the extent of unsettled debts uncertain, but it is unlikely that the building cost less than £ 325,000. Vanbrugh frequently protested his frugality, attributing rising costs largely to the failure of the park quarries. (fn. 68a) The duchess regarded him as a spendthrift who paid excessive wages, wasted materials, and without authority changed already extravagant plans. (fn. 69a)
The question whether Blenheim workmen were employed by the Crown or the Marlboroughs was central to the prolonged disputes over debts. As early as 1713 a minor creditor brought a successful action against the duke, but the chief creditors, the Strongs, masons, were persuaded to await settlement by the Crown. (fn. 70a) In 1716, after acknowledging debts much higher than the duchess thought reasonable, the Crown paid only a third to creditors, who then sought redress from the Marlboroughs. (fn. 71a) Several were successful, including the Strongs who were awarded over £ 12,000 in 1721. (fn. 72a) The duchess brought an action against 401 Blenheim workmen on various charges, and obtained an injunction forbidding Vanbrugh to pursue her family for debts incurred before 1712. (fn. 73a) Although Vanbrugh's debt was later acknowledged by the Crown (fn. 74a) others were less successful, and Henry Joynes, comptroller of works and the meticulous accountant of the Blenheim building operation, was still seeking settlement in 1748. (fn. 75a)
In the first phase of building Nicholas Hawksmoor was responsible for much of the detailed execution of the design. (fn. 76a) Wren was consulted over certain aspects of the plan, notably the northern approach to the palace. (fn. 77a) Henry Joynes and William Boulter were joint comptrollers of works from 1705, and Boulter was succeeded on his death in 1708 by Tilleman Bobart. (fn. 78a) In 1716 Vanbrugh resigned as architect, and by then Hawksmoor and Joynes had also left Blenheim. Thereafter the duchess took control of the building work with the help of James Moore, cabinet maker, John Desborough, clerk of works, and Tilleman Bobart, who continued at Blenheim (though increasingly confined to garden business) until 1719. (fn. 79a) From 1722 Hawksmoor was again engaged to design or complete major features such as the great gallery, the chapel, and the Triumphal Arch, but was overlooked when the final stages, notably the Marlborough tomb and the Column of Victory, were undertaken. (fn. 80a)
For the early building the principal masons were Edward Strong, father and son; others included Henry Banckes, notably on the colonnades, John Townesend on the clock tower and kitchen, and Bartholomew Peisley (d. 1715) on the Grand Bridge. (fn. 81a) In the period 1708-12 Grinling Gibbons provided carved enrichments in wood and stone. Sir Charles and John Hopson and John Smallwell, father and son, were the principal joiners, Robert Wetherill the plasterer, and Matthew Banckes and John Barton carpenters for the roof of the main block. (fn. 82a) From 1716 the principal masons were Christopher Cass and Joshua Fletcher (foremen respectively of the Strongs and Henry Banckes); (fn. 83a) the Oxford masons William Townesend and Bartholomew Peisley (d. 1727) also worked there in that period, chiefly on the kitchen court, before emerging in the 1720s as the principal builders. Sir James Thornhill painted the hall ceiling in 1716, and Louis Laguerre the saloon in 1718. (fn. 84a) The plasterwork of the great gallery was by Isaac Mansfield in 1725.
The plan of Blenheim evolved from the design made by Vanbrugh some five years earlier for Castle Howard (Yorks. N.R.). (fn. 85a) An outline of the palace predating surviving plans (fn. 86a) shows the main block much as it was built, but without the north portico and with different arrangement of buildings around the great court; colonnades offset from the north-west and north-east pavilions linked the main block to service wings, which were half H-shaped, lacking the full courtyards of Vanbrugh's later design. At first the plan was very similar to that of Castle Howard, but in the summer of 1705 Vanbrugh decided to enlarge and heighten the proposed hall, add a north portico, and move the chapel and kitchen, which he had intended to place behind the colonnades: instead they were placed at the north end of the colonnades, aligned east-west as the southern blocks of the service wings. The north-west pavilion, where the entrance to the colonnade and chapel had already been made in the west wall, was altered accordingly in December 1705 to provide an entrance in the north wall. (fn. 87a)
When Vanbrugh moved the chapel and kitchen into the service wings the probably already intended to extend those wings into full courtyards, with matching entrance towers and, on their southern elevations, conservatories overlooking formal gardens on the east and west fronts of the main block. (fn. 88a) He claimed later that both courts had been included on plans shown to the duke in the winter of 1707-8, (fn. 89a) and, against the duchess's charge of extravagance, pointed out that the kitchen court, as the probable main entrance for visitors, justified ornamentation such as cloisters and a massive gate tower; a stable court was required to provide sufficient coach houses and other offices, and its conservatory, needed for architectural balance, was not for `foolish plants' but would become a 'room of pleasure', with books, statuary, and pictures. (fn. 90a)
Another major change to the original design was Vanbrugh's decision, apparently made in the winter of 1706-7, to heighten the main block; both north and south fronts had been designed in the Doric order but, to allow for the taller elevation on the same foundations, the order was changed to Corinthian, and early in 1707 parts of the south front were rebuilt. At the same time the low roofs designed for the corner towers were changed to tall open lanterns. (fn. 91a) Later costly additions to the plan included widening the archways between the great court and service wings and greatly elaborating the clock towers. (fn. 92a)
Priority was given to completing the east wing of the main block, which was to contain the family's rooms. In 1710, before all work was temporarily halted by the duchess, even the west wing was close to roof level and work had begun on the colonnade towards the chapel, (fn. 93a) although that was vandalized soon afterwards when the workmen were dismissed. (fn. 94a) Work was resumed in 1711 but at a slower rate, and the house was uninhabitable when Treasury payments ceased in 1712. In 1716 the most advanced, eastern, part lacked floors, ceilings, staircases, and chimney pieces. At the western end of the main block the shell was incomplete, with the two corner towers largely unbuilt and part of the great gallery not yet roofed. Of the service blocks the half-finished kitchen court was most advanced, while some buildings such as the chapel and the orangery were hardly above the ground. (fn. 95a)
Before Vanbrugh left Blenheim in 1716 new contracts had been drawn up to finish the western towers and the kitchen court, and Thornhill had completed his work on the hall. (fn. 96a) In 1719 when the Marlboroughs moved in much of the exterior work on the main block and kitchen court and the interior of the eastern part and the central state rooms were complete, probably in accordance with Vanbrugh's ideas except for the engagement of Laguerrre for the saloon; over 70 rooms in the main block were furnished, including rooms in both quadrants and much of the upper floors, but excluding the great gallery and the state rooms west of the saloon. (fn. 97a) Thereafter the duchess departed from Vanbrugh's plan, and relied on Hawksmoor for the finishing of several principal rooms: the three unfinished state rooms were ceiled in 1724, (fn. 98a) and the great gallery and chapel prepared for plastering in that year. (fn. 99a) Hawksmoor supervised Mansfield's work on the gallery in 1725, and was probably responsible for much of the chapel, although out of favour before it was completed in the early 1730s. (fn. 1a) Other major works completed after 1716, apart from buildings in the park, were the orangery, the great flights of steps to the north and south fronts, most of the terraced pavement of the great court, and the boundary walls of the great and stable courts. (fn. 2a) Vanbrugh's design for a colonnaded northern boundary wall was ignored in favour of a low fence of railings and squat stone piers, and an outer wall or fence between it and the bridge; (fn. 3a) the stable court, not completed beyond its eastern range, was enclosed with a wall, and a gateway placed in line with the stable arch. (fn. 4a)
The finished building comprised a south front 24 bays long with raised 3-bay end towers and centrepiece. The shorter 17-bay east and west fronts were extended northwards by the blind walls backing the colonnades to the kitchen and stable blocks. From the great court on the north the wings of the main block are hardly discernible because of the projection of the hall and portico in the centre, and the concave quadrant arcades in the angles between the north front and the wings. In the course of construction Vanbrugh's ideas for the roofscape had changed from a fairly restrained distribution of urns to a towering assemblage of roof lanterns, finials, vases, trophies, gilded copper balls, and statuary. (fn. 5a) Each corner tower carried four tall finials by Gibbons representing a reversed fleur-de-lys surmounted by a ducal coronet. (fn. 6a) The centrepiece of the south front, intended to have been a representation of the mounted duke trampling his enemies, was changed to the surviving vast marble bust of Louis XIV, which fell into the duke's hands after the sack of Tournai (1709). (fn. 7a) The north portico carried Gibbons's carving of the Marlborough arms and his statue of Pallas Athene; (fn. 8a) set back above it was a massive broken pediment and the pediment of the hall clerestory, surmounted by Gibbons's reclining statues of chained slaves beneath a gilded ball. Imported Italian statues lined the balustrade flanking the portico, and on the quadrant arcades were Gibbons's statues of the Graces and Virtues. (fn. 9a) His carving of the English lion squeezing the cockerel of France (already regarded as poor taste in 1737) (fn. 10a) survives on the east clock tower, with later copies on the west, and his elaborately sculptured trophies at the north ends of the colonnades. Similar trophies flanking the main entrance steps (fn. 11a) were later replaced; in the early 19th century the steps carried a combination of trophies and sphinxes, (fn. 12a) and the surviving small trophies are said to have been moved from the east front. (fn. 13a) The statues flanking the portico and the statues, urns, and finials on the quadrants and colonnades were removed in the 1770s, some being used on the East Gate and others placed in the garden; (fn. 14a) in the early 20th century the statues flanking the portico were replaced in terracotta. (fn. 15a)
The interior provided a series of sets of apartments on the principal floor, with the great hall and saloon, as at Castle Howard, occupying the central axis: the hall, entered from the north portico, led to the saloon which overlooked the garden on the south. Some early designs for the hall (fn. 16a) incorporated the passage which crosses its south end, while others placed the passage behind an open screen or large single arch; (fn. 17a) that solution was chosen, leaving the lateral walls with five bays. Schemes providing for attached or free-standing columns between each bay were replaced by a simpler design, with fluted Corinthian half columns in the corners, a deeply cut moulded cornice by Gibbons, and two tiers of plain open arcading on the side walls. On the south side, over an arch framing the doorway to the saloon, the first floor corridor forms a gallery with an iron balustrade. The uppermost stage is painted and deeply coved around windows on all sides. The ceiling by Thornhill (1716) depicts the duke of Marlborough offering to Britannia a plan of the battle of Blenheim. (fn. 18a)
Earlier schemes for the saloon (fn. 19a) were set aside and Laguerre was chosen to paint the walls in 1718 with figures representing the four continents looking into the room through a giant colonnade; the upper walls were also painted with architectural features, figures, and trophies. The figures included portraits of Laguerre and of the duke's domestic chaplain, Dean Jones. (fn. 20a) The ceiling was badly damaged by fire in 1896. (fn. 21a) The marble doorcases were probably designed by Hawksmoor; the west doorcase was carved by Gibbons, the others added after 1716. (fn. 22a) The double-headed eagles in the tympana allude to the duke's title of prince of Mindelheim, conferred on him by the Emperor Leopold in 1705. (fn. 23a)
Flanking the saloon on the south front were two sets of state apartments, each comprising antechamber, drawing room, and great bedchamber. The south-west corner and the whole of the west front were occupied by the great gallery (later the long library); at the south-east corner was the duke's study or grand cabinet, the termination of his private suite of apartments which occupied part of the east front, while to the north lay the duchess's suite. Each of the principal apartments was connected to further rooms, perhaps for personal servants, in the mezzanine. A 'little apartment' west of the great hall, later called Dean Jones's room, (fn. 24a) was linked to its own stair in the mezzanine. In the west quadrant was a two-storeyed suite intended in 1716 for Francis, earl of Godolphin, (fn. 25a) while the east quadrant, although similarly arranged, seems to have been used chiefly to service the dining room. (fn. 26a) The saloon may have been used for dining on formal occasions, but the main dining room was east of the great hall. Vanbrugh's plans provided for two grand staircases flanking the great hall behind the arcades, but only the eastern one was built; two other large staircases were behind the quadrants. A long east-west vaulted stone corridor with saucer domes linked the hall with the wings of the main block and provided a view of c. 350 ft. from the bow window on the east to that on the west.
On the upper floor the present arrangement of bedrooms and dressing rooms leading off long corridors may be little changed from the original plan. (fn. 27a) In 1719 much of the first floor was arranged in suites, including one for the Marlboroughs' granddaughter, Lady Anne Spencer, comprising an apartment, a bedchamber, and a room for a female servant. A suite occupied in 1719 by Lady Pembroke, presumably Barbara Herbert, countess of Pembroke (d. 1722), was probably that still called Lady Pembroke's in 1780, when it was towards the east end of the south front. The surviving Godolphin suite towards the west end presumably acquired its name in the earlier 18th century. (fn. 28a) There were garrets for servants, presumably the surviving housemaids' and batchelors' heights in attics flanking the great hall and saloon, but a maids' tower and a footmen's tower in the main block in 1719 may have been the attics in the north-east and south-east towers.
The main block incorporated two large lightwells which, at basement level, were lined with arcaded passages. In the basement (fn. 29a) surviving decoration and the descent of the east wing staircase suggest that the room at garden level below the bow window room was intended at first for family use, and the vaulted rooms below the great gallery were intended for a grotto. (fn. 30a) In the mid 18th century much of the basement was given over to wine cellars and store rooms, but there were also dining halls for servants, and separate dining halls for the steward and chaplain. (fn. 31a)
The kitchen occupied the south-west corner of the kitchen court, while the range flanking the great court probably contained preparation rooms on the ground floor and servants' accommodation above; the common hall was in the northern cross-wing which balanced the kitchen. The central archway was crowned by a clock tower built by John Townesend (d. 1728), the clock being made by Langley Bradley in 1710. (fn. 32a) East of the kitchen on the south side of the cloistered court lay a small open yard and a long greenhouse or orangery; much of the north side was also an open yard, serving as a drying area for the laundry in the east range; a dairy mentioned in that area in 1719 (fn. 33a) probably, as later, occupied the north-east corner. In the centre of the east range was a tall entrance arch flanked by massive tapering pilasters, above which was the water cistern. The east gate (now Flagstaff gate) incorporated a porter's lodge, and between that and the orangery was a bakery. In 1716 Vanbrugh reluctantly chose cheaper stone to finish the kitchen court, and, as a result, costly repairs were necessary in modern times. (fn. 34a)
The stable court, of similar design, was never completed; the eastern range was apparently up and roofed by 1709, (fn. 35a) but was later modified to include a coachhouse on its west side, while the duchess reluctantly added a tower 'of more than ordinary expense' to balance the clock tower on the kitchen court. (fn. 36a) Both outer courts were planned with well-fenestrated elevations to the south, where they overlooked formal gardens, but their outer elevations to the north, east, and west had high walls with few windows and massive projecting buttresses. Presumably they were intended to continue on the north side of the house the military character of the banks and bastions enclosing the gardens on the south.
The chapel, like the rest of the stable court, seems to have been replanned after Vanbrugh's departure and before 1723-4 when its unfinished walls were completed and William Townesend of Woodstock was engaged to provide carpentry for it. (fn. 37a) The early plans (fn. 38a) providing for an apsed western (altar) end were successively adapted; (fn. 39a) all show the chapel projecting one bay west of the central stable block, but by 1752, and probably from its completion in the 1720s, the chapel's west end appears to have been in line with the stables, and to have contained two long round-headed windows rather than the single window of the early plans. (fn. 40a) Likewise the projecting centre of the south front was probably changed in the 1720s to the surviving arrangement of two tall round-headed windows. An elevation drawing by Hawksmoor, which includes a design for a monument to the first duke, shows the interior still apsed and the walls with Corinthian pilasters and roundheaded recesses. (fn. 41a) Although his monument design was eventually rejected, Hawksmoor was evidently concerned with the chapel in 1725, (fn. 42a) and much of the interior, with its fluted giant pilasters and plasterwork similar to that of the great gallery, was probably his work.
In 1727 the chapel was paved beneath a raised gallery, which had evidently been retained from the original plan; later it was said to have Doric piers. (fn. 43a) Presumably the building was nearing completion by 1728, when the duchess quarrelled with the bishop of Oxford over its consecration, which eventually took place in 1731. (fn. 44a) The elaborate Marlborough monument dominating the interior was designed by William Kent and executed by Michael Rysbrack; it was commissioned in 1730 and completed in 1733. (fn. 45a) When the duchess died in 1744 the duke's remains were removed from Westminster Abbey to the family vault beneath the chapel. (fn. 46a)
Hawksmoor was not responsible for the final details of the interior, and the duchess claimed its 'very plain' finish as her own. (fn. 47a) In 1744 the chapel was said to have neither altar nor altar piece, and its plainness was contrasted with that of the rest of the house. (fn. 48) After refurbishment in 1787 it was described as 'extremely grand', finished in grey and white. By then there was an altar piece, the Descent from the Cross by Jordaens, which was removed shortly after 1840. (fn. 49) Further alterations made in 1857-9 under the direction of S. S. Teulon included the removal of the gallery and the introduction of a double flight of alabaster steps at the west end, a font, a richly ornamented marble and alabaster pulpit, and new seating. (fn. 50) It is not known what was done by David Brandon, who was working on the chapel c. 1870, (fn. 51) but when Sir Thomas Jackson refitted the interior c. 1890 he complained of the previous work of 'some bungler', which he had been unable to remove entirely; (fn. 52) the pulpit was sent to Waddesdon church (Bucks.), the font to a Woodstock chapel, and some of the pews to Combe. (fn. 53) Jackson was responsible for the surviving organ case, and probably the pulpit, reredos, and benches. The statue of Lord Randolph Churchill (d. 1895) is by Waldo Story. (fn. 54)
The interior of the great gallery, completed as a picture gallery c. 1725, was altered by the 3rd duke to accommodate the Sunderland Library, which had been collected by his father Charles Spencer, earl of Sunderland (d. 1722) and was removed to Blenheim before 1749 from Sunderland House, Piccadilly. (fn. 55) The carved bookcases were not entirely successful: those blocking windows at the north and south ends suffered from damp, while the rest, on the east wall, were exposed to sunlight. (fn. 56) Most of the surviving decoration of the long library is Hawksmoor's design of the 1720s, notably the plasterwork by Mansfield and the doorcases by William Townesend and Bartholomew Peisley. (fn. 57) The Sunderland Library was sold in 1881-3, (fn. 58) but the intention to reconvert the room to a picture gallery was postponed. (fn. 59) Bookcases still lined the east wall in 1900, but had been removed by 1909 except from the south end. (fn. 60) The change may have been made in 1902 when the organ, by Henry Willis, first placed by the 8th duke in the bow window in 1891, was removed to the north end and its case rebuilt, allegedly incorporating 18th-century carved woodwork. (fn. 61) Before 1912 the 9th duke restored the room as a library, making pastiches of the original bookcases, of which some were re-used. (fn. 62) The statue of Queen Anne by Rysbrack was placed in the bow window in 1738, but was given its present pedestal in 1746, (fn. 63) perhaps marking its removal to the south end and the refitting of the gallery as a library. Also in the long library are Rysbrack's busts of the 1st duke, on a pedestal of 1772 by Sir William Chambers, and of Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland. (fn. 64)
Of the few external changes made to the palace after its completion in the 1730s the most notable concerned the great court, which in the later 18th century not only lost much of its roof ornamentation but also, in keeping with Capability Brown's transformation of the formal gardens to the south, east, and west of the palace, was stripped of its terracing and pavements and turned to grass. A few pedestals opposite the archways to the kitchen and stable courts seem to have been retained, and probably the original inner boundary fence on the north. (fn. 65) Between 1900 and 1910 the 9th duke, using early plans and drawings, and with the assistance of Achille Duchêne, restored the great court to something like its original appearance, with terracing and statuary. On the north he added a sunk wall, railings, and tall, wrought iron gates. (fn. 66) The east gate into the kitchen court was altered by the 4th duke c. 1773 under the direction of Sir William Chambers, who tried to mitigate its uncompromising military appearance by adding swags, laurels, and lions' heads, together with statues and pinnacles taken from the north front of the palace. (fn. 67) An inscription recounting, somewhat inaccurately, the circumstances of Blenheim's construction was placed over the archway. (fn. 68) The surviving wrought iron gates were inserted in the 1840s. (fn. 69)
By the mid 18th century the division of the principal floor into suites had been largely abandoned in favour of an established circuit of public rooms in which was displayed the family's vast collection of pictures, tapestries, and sculptures. (fn. 70) The circuit began at the great hall, passed along the corridor to the bow window room, turned south to the grand cabinet, then west to the long library. (fn. 71) The 4th duke refurbished and made several interior alterations to the public rooms, mostly under the direction of Sir William Chambers, and before 1789 he seems to have rearranged the entire picture collection. (fn. 72) By then the former bedrooms flanking the grand cabinet had been turned into drawing rooms, and the former antechamber east of the saloon was a dining room, with whitepainted panelling, repainted by 1817 as imitation oak; the former dining room east of the hall was used as a billiard room by 1780 and also as a library by the early 19th century. (fn. 73) The three rooms west of the saloon preserved something of the original arrangements, with an antechamber (called until the 1840s the green drawing room) leading to the state drawing room and so to the state bedchamber. The principal family bedrooms were at the north end of the east front.
Chambers's embellishments were carried out in conjunction with the furniture makers William Ince and John Mayhew, and the chimneypieces which he inserted in several rooms on the east and south fronts were carved by Joseph Wilton and others. (fn. 74) The new furnishings included an elaborate bed for the state bedchamber, which survives in the private apartments whence it was removed in the 1840s, (fn. 75) and pier glasses and tables for the grand cabinet and elsewhere. Chambers's pupil John Yenn also designed chimneypieces and pier glasses in the 1780s. (fn. 76) In 1789 it was noted that the bow window room ceiling was painted with arabesques and military emblems by Hakewill, probably John Hakewill (d. 1791); (fn. 77) the ceiling was painted over in the 20th century. Evidently the 4th duke redecorated many other rooms: in 1770 Walpole commented adversely on the 'vast introduction of blue paper', (fn. 78) and in 1789 mention was made of new decorations, particularly a richly gilded ceiling, in the state drawing room (now the second state room). (fn. 79) Perhaps it was at that period that all three state rooms west of the saloon lost their Hawksmoor ceilings, as described in 1724, and acquired the plainer ceilings (all evidently of one date) which survived until the 1890s; (fn. 80) it is possible, however, that the changes may not have been made until the 1840s. (fn. 81) The grand cabinet, after refurbishment by Chambers, remained unaltered until the mid 20th century, when the chimneypiece and almost all other 18th-century fittings were removed. (fn. 82)
The duke set up an observatory in the south- east tower and in 1789 was establishing another in the south-west tower; neither was mentioned after 1840. (fn. 83) In the mid 18th century a china collection was exhibited to the public 'below stairs', (fn. 84) but before 1789 was withdrawn from public display after a theft. (fn. 85) In 1796 a china gallery was built in the park to house another collection. (fn. 86) In 1787 the orangery in the kitchen court was turned into a theatre, with seats for over 200 people; plays were produced there regularly for only two years, before invited audiences, (fn. 87) but it remained a theatre until converted shortly after 1840 into offices for the duke and his steward. (fn. 88) In 1796 the supposed Titian paintings presented to the 1st duke by Victor Amadeus, king of Sardinia, were removed from the great hall and displayed separately in a room east of the theatre. (fn. 89) The Titian room was burnt down in 1861 and its contents, which included a notable Rubens, destroyed. (fn. 90) The fire destroyed much of the south side of the north-east court, but muniments in the office strong room were preserved. When the range was rebuilt the former orangery was restored as a conservatory and a new estate office built on the former open yard. (fn. 91) A strong room was inserted in the west end of the conservatory in 1902. (fn. 92)
The 5th duke rearranged exhibits in the public rooms to accommodate paintings moved to Blenheim from Marlborough House when it reverted to the Crown in 1817. (fn. 93) His principal structural alterations were in the area beneath the long library, which in the 18th century was known as the stone gallery. (fn. 94) In the 1820s he divided the area into three rooms, lavishly decorated in a variety of styles, including a room (now the restaurant) with japanned panelling and a large mural of an Indian tiger hunt. (fn. 95) The northernmost room was turned into a china gallery in the 1840s after the closure of the gallery in the park. (fn. 96)
The 5th duke's financial problems led to serious neglect of the building. (fn. 97) When he died in 1840 his successor quickly obtained an Act enabling him to finance repairs by mortgages and timber sales. (fn. 98) During the 6th duke's time (1840-57) the palace was renovated 'at immense expense', reputedly £80,000. (fn. 99) The architect Thomas Allason began work there in 1841. (fn. 1) In 1844 the visiting king of Saxony found 'almost every part in disorder' and under repair, but his party judged the 'extravagant opulence' of the palace by the dairy, where a fountain, which 'in any other place' would adorn the entrance avenue, was provided simply to cool milk and butter; the fountain, in the present bookshop, was built in artificial stone by John Seeley. (fn. 2) The public rooms were redecorated and rearranged, the state bedchamber becoming the crimson drawing room; the rooms between the bow window room and grand cabinet (formerly the duke's study and a drawing room) were completely redecorated and turned into a billiard room and breakfast room, while the present duchess's bedchamber was briefly the state bedchamber. (fn. 3) That room and the duke's morning room to the north were receiled in ornate Louis XIV style. (fn. 4) The conversion of the theatre into offices reflects a decision to move the centre of estate administration from Hensington House, occupied by the duke's auditor since the 1760s, (fn. 5) and it was probably also in the 1840s that the former kitchen was turned into the audit house. (fn. 6) Then or earlier in the 19th century new kitchens were created in the basement of the main block, and the loggia in the basement of the eastern light well partly walled in and a staircase built to provide access to the dining room above. (fn. 7) Under-floor heating of the main corridors may have been installed in the 1850s, (fn. 8) and probably in the 6th duke's time Blenheim acquired its own gas works, built outside the stable court. (fn. 9) The works were removed when electricity was installed in the 1880s by the 8th duke who also introduced radiators and telephones. (fn. 10)
The 7th duke converted the billiard room in the private apartments, the present smoking room, into a Gothic library designed by S. S. Teulon; some fittings survived later alterations. (fn. 11) Other 19th-century changes included alterations to the principal staircases, and that in the north-west of the main block was entirely reconstructed. The stable court had been extended piecemeal from the later 18th century: (fn. 12) a melon house built within it by the 5th duke (fn. 13) was removed, and by the mid 19th century the peripheral buildings included a cottage and coachhouses flanking the west gate and an opensided riding school on the north. (fn. 14) In the 1880s the court's south side was built up to house the electricity generator, and the adjacent cottage enlarged. (fn. 15) The riding school was enclosed to form an assembly hall for Malvern College during the Second World War.
From the time of the 7th duke the circuit of public rooms was curtailed and the whole east front reserved as private apartments. (fn. 16) In the public rooms the large drawing room west of the grand cabinet became a billiard room, and the saloon was refurnished as a drawing room, (fn. 17) but there were few other changes. By the 1880s an anteroom to display porcelain linked the hall to the rooms at the east end of the south front. In the late 19th century the contents of the former china gallery were displayed in the basement below the bow window room. (fn. 18) In general the exhibited collections were greatly reduced by the sale of the Sunderland Library in 1881-3 and by later sales of heirlooms by the 8th duke. (fn. 19) Much of the profit was devoted to agricultural development but in the 8th duke's latter years some was spent on the palace, notably on restoring the chapel.
The 9th duke recreated a formal setting on the east, west, and north fronts. (fn. 20) Inside he restored the long library and altered (to his later regret) the three state rooms west of the saloon by adding applied decoration in the style of Louis XIV on the walls and ceilings. (fn. 21) He restored the third state room as the state bedchamber by 1912, (fn. 22) turned the billiard room into the red drawing room, and the panelled dining room east of the saloon into the morning room. (fn. 23) The saloon was used as a dining room on formal occasions but the family usually dined in the bow window room. Later the third state room again ceased to be furnished as a bedchamber, and the morning room became the green writing room. (fn. 24)
The long library was used as a hospital ward during the First World War. On the outbreak of the Second World War Malvern College was evacuated to Blenheim, but after a year the palace was taken over by the Intelligence Service until 1944, and other tenants included the British Council and the Ministry of Supply. Huts were built in the great court and partitions divided many of the principal rooms. After restoration the palace was reopened to visitors in 1950. (fn. 25) Thereafter costly repairs were carried out to most of the structure; (fn. 26) the chief alterations were the conversion of the basement below the library into a restaurant, the provision of staff flats on part of the upper floors, and of a conference centre in the kitchen court.
From the outset Blenheim housed a large domestic staff, under the control of a resident steward; in 1764 the Marlboroughs had c. 90 servants of whom over 70 were at Blenheim and their wages and liveries cost nearly £3,000 a year. (fn. 27) In the early 19th century it was estimated that there were 187 furnished rooms in the palace and there was a staff, not all resident, of c. 80. (fn. 28) The penurious 5th duke was forced to reduce his establishment greatly. (fn. 29) In 1841, when the 6th duke was in residence, there were 30 servants and a governess in the palace, and in 1871 a similar number; in 1851 and 1881, when the family was absent, there were fewer than a dozen resident servants. (fn. 30) A higher proportion of the staff lived out as park lodges proliferated and estate cottages were built in nearby villages. At the end of the 19th century the inside staff was between 35 and 40, and the outside staff between 40 and 50, excluding the hunting department based at Home Farm, Bladon. (fn. 31) In modern times, although the family ceased to reside during the tourist season, the staff was enlarged as the palace became a commercial enterprise; by the 1980s there were c. 90 permanent employees and twice that number in the summer months. (fn. 32)
In 1786 George III visited Blenheim and remarked of the view from the Triumphal Arch, 'we have nothing to equal this'. (fn. 33) Other royal visitors included the king of Denmark in 1768, the emperor of Russia in 1814, Queen Adelaide in 1835, Prince Albert in 1841, Edward VII as prince of Wales in 1859, 1870, 1873, and 1896, Edward VIII in 1936, and Charles, prince of Wales, in 1976 and 1981. (fn. 34) Sir Winston Churchill was born in the palace, in Dean Jones's room, in 1874. (fn. 35) Even as a building site Blenheim became an object of popular tourism, and c. 1720 an Oxford man complained of his recurrent obligation to take visitors there. From the outset the building was recognized as a public monument and in 1712 the duke directed his comptroller of works, Henry Joynes, to show visitors round without fee; later the duchess accused Joynes of profiting handsomely. (fn. 36) One notable visitor refused admission on the duchess's orders was Vanbrugh, who had to view his work from over the park wall in 1725. (fn. 37) Guide books, at first published as annexes to Oxford tours, proliferated from the mid 18th century. Complaints about the crowds of tourists and the rudeness and venality of porters and guides were common, and fees were regarded as exorbitant. (fn. 38) In the later 18th century the family maintained some privacy by restricting opening hours to a brief period in the afternoon but the park was open most days and there was also a series of public days in the late summer. (fn. 39) Throughout its history the palace and grounds were made available for local celebrations and other public events. Distinguished tourists were sometimes received by the family, but in 1802 the reclusive 4th duke deeply offended Nelson by sending out refreshments to him in the park. By contrast the king of Saxony was received in 1844 with a 21-gun salute. (fn. 40) The 5th duke shocked some visitors by letting shooting and fishing by the hour, (fn. 41) and his successor caused outrage by raising the entry fee, (fn. 42) which was restored in 1856 to 1s. and remained unchanged until the First World War; the fees were given to charities such as the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. (fn. 43) Damage and theft by visitors was a recurrent problem; in 1913 the park was, exceptionally, closed to the public because of a threat of damage by suffragettes. (fn. 44) The family resided more frequently from the late 19th century and public access to the palace was curtailed; from the 1920s only the grounds were open and tourism declined sharply. (fn. 45) When the palace was reopened in 1950 it attracted large crowds and by the 1980s there were over 350,000 visitors a year. (fn. 46)